Do Hong Kong police have too many discretionary powers?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am


Matthew Murchie, Imperial College London

In Hong Kong, there is a clear and well-defined rule of law. It is this that the police strive to uphold.

I disagree that by doing so they have somehow abused their powers.

The question is whether the police have acted in ways that may be considered unethical. The answer is no.

The reason why there has been a stir about the police's discretionary powers is because the police seem to have become more stringent in upholding the rule of law. Commonly quoted examples include the police's handling of students at the University of Hong Kong or the police's treatment of activists at the July 1 protests.

Yet the apparent change in policy is a direct result of protesters' increasingly radical actions.

While activists justify their actions using phrases like 'right to free speech' or 'freedom of assembly', the truth is, their actions do cause public disturbance. Demonstrators blocked major roads, climbed onto the tops of tall structures and tried to attack political figures. Such actions are not just a nuisance but downright dangerous.

In these circumstances, it isn't just within their rights for the police to take action; it's their duty.

In short, I disagree that the police have broken the law in maintaining public order. The increased security at political events and the stricter upholding of rules at demonstrations are both justified and necessary.

It is clear that the Hong Kong police have high moral standards.

They most certainly do not have excessive discretionary powers.

Elise Choi, Sai Kung Sung Tsun Catholic School

Hong Kong police are well-known for their discipline and integrity. Yet several news reports indicate that officers have too many discretionary powers in some cases, especially when it comes to protests.

During his recent visit to Hong Kong, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang attended the 100th anniversary of the University of Hong Kong. When some students showed up to protest against the mainland's human rights record, police kept them well away from Li. They also prevented some students from using certain areas of the building.

Were these police officers instructed to act in this way, or did they decide to do so on their own?

Demonstrators were kept so far away from Li that they couldn't see each other at all. That violated students' right to peaceful protest.

The police are supposed to maintain peace and order, but they should not ignore the rules.

During Li's visit, a man wearing a T-shirt with a political slogan on it was taken away by police. The police later said he had been inside a security area. If that was the case, why hadn't the police designated the area clearly with barriers? It seems as if the police could just cite any law or regulation they wanted to keep protesters at bay.

The police's job is to ensure citizens' safety and orderly conduct. It is not the police's job, however, to act as enforcers of political views by restricting protests.

In Hong Kong, we treasure our freedoms, including freedom of speech.

The police should clarify their stance on political protests as soon as possible.